The music of Kings of Leon is best appreciated with beer. A point to keep in mind as the Tennessee band starts a North American tour today.
Fans in Orange Beach, Alabama, can expect a set as coarse as a truck driver’s humor and as powerful as a juggernaut, based on the Kings’ summer shows in Europe.
Loud, unshaven and gnarlier than on their records, the three Followill brothers and their lead-guitar playing cousin Matthew Followill churn up the enthusiastically lubricated crowds with lustily unreconstructed, arena-honed Southern rock.
“Come Around Sundown,” the group’s fifth studio album, has sold more than 2 million copies since its release in October. The quartet aims to push this closer to the 6.5 million achieved by its predecessor “Only by the Night” from 2008 and has a grueling road ahead that swings across the South before hitting New York in August and California in September.
Not everyone likes the Kings’ increasingly labored play on grizzled Lynyrd Skynyrd stereotypes.
Caleb’s rural drawl recites lyrics that perpetually gaze down to his navel, or, more accurately, a critical couple of inches below it.
The brazen application of U2 pilfered stadium techniques is everywhere: The band managed to call a song “Sex on Fire” without overdosing on irony or combusting with embarrassment.
Still, some people love the song, given the response at the larger festivals in London’s Hyde Park and elsewhere. It perfectly ignited huge crowds of drunken sunburned young men -- an undeniably effective big bleary sing-along rock moment.
Inebriated young men are not great arbiters of fine taste. Yet, like teenage girls with pop music, they do know a great tune and a good pose. The Followills hit on target with their pretty-boy looks, backwater swagger and loud guitars.
“Four Kicks” boogies like ZZ Top on dirty gasoline. More purist Southern rock songs from the early albums are refried in a deep grunge. “The Bucket” in particular serves to remind that the Followills have a good ear for a hook and chorus.
“The Immortals” sounds like moonshine Coldplay, “Radioactive” like a ravaged Bono.
At best, Kings of Leon comes across like a U2 that just wants to play rock ‘n’ roll and get the beers in, not change the world. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that.
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)